Germany's biggest music prize was awarded in March for the 20th time. Reflecting CD sales, the Echo is more of a statistical summary than a critical distinction.
Lena Meyer-Landrut was dazzled by the star power at the show
Michi Beck of Die Fantastischen Vier (The Fantastic Four) had to confess to a bit of an oversight. Over the years, his hip hop group has raked in five Echo awards. Four are perched on his living room loudspeakers, but one of them, he says, he "lost somehow."
Beck said he feels "a bit sentimental" when he looks back at his various Echos over the years. It is, after all, Germany's most important music prize.
This year, Die Fantastischen Vier, whose newest album was released in 2010, were nominated in the "Best Domestic Band" category. But top honors went to Ich und Ich (I and I), much to the delight of the duo's fans.
But justifiably or not, the Echo ceremony reflects numbers much more than taste. Some standard-setting and creative musicians get lost in the shuffle, while others win a prize year after year. A group of folk singers known as Die Kastelruther Spatzen are perfect examples. In the 20 years of Echo history, they have topped the list in the Folk Music category 13 times, despite being a favorite laughing stock among those whose tastes run a bit more hip.
'Plenty of hot air'
New to the biz is Lena Meyer-Landrut, who perhaps for that very reason found the awards ceremony "really exciting." Lena won for Germany at the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest, bringing that distinction to her homeland for the first time in nearly 30 years. Nominated for five Echos, the 19-year-old took two home: Best Newcomer and Best Domestic Artist.
"It's absolutely crazy. I can't stop gawking, I'm surrounded by stars!" she remarked.
Lena performing her new hit "Taken by a Stranger" at the Echo gala
Many of the Echo prizes are announced in advance, so the awards ceremony doesn't bear many surprises. Instead, it's a bit like a class reunion for the music industry. The afterparty is more important than the official gala for quite a few of the guests.
"It's about everybody getting together here, and for young, new bands, it's a chance to feel that they're part of the scene," said veteran musician Herbert Grönemeyer, who gave a rendition of his newest song at the gala. "It's about pop, rock 'n' roll and also no small amount of hot air, but that's part of the deal, and in any case, it's fun."
This time not only German artists were nominated for the Echo but international stars as well. Some seats remained empty nonetheless. US rapper Eminem didn't show up to take his prize for Best Hip Hop Artist.
Public relations prize
Scottish singer Amy Macdonald did make the trip. Declared "Best International Newcomer" in 2009 and "Best International Artist" in 2011, she said, "I've been more successful in Germany than anywhere else, and the Echo is quite an event."
Take That are back and won an award for that very reason
That alone would explain why Italian rock singer Gianna Nannini and Morton Harket of the Norwegian band "A-ha" made an appearance in Berlin. Declining CD sales notwithstanding, Germany remains a big, important music market for internationally known acts.
The appearance of British ex-boy band "Take That" was de rigueur. Their Echo for Best International Pop Band was no surprise. The master of ceremonies hailed the boys - or rather, men - as the most successful reunification since the fall of the Berlin Wall, while megastar and band group member Robbie Williams expressed gratitude to Germany for being so good to them - not neglecting to invite spectators to future "Take That" concerts.
That, too, is the Echo: a big PR bash on prime time TV.
Author: Nadine Wojcik (rf)
Editor: Greg Wiser